Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Royals: Looking ahead to 2008

Spring is in the air.

Okay, it’s about 10 degrees outside, but still… The Royals officially report to Surprise, AZ tomorrow, which always gets me excited for the coming warmer months.

In just a couple of weeks, I will be heading out to Arizona, along with my brother and son, to get some sun and to fill my lungs with warm, desert air. As spring approaches, I have a few thoughts about the upcoming baseball season.

Over the last two off seasons, the Royals have been ready to spend money on free agents. Unfortunately, there haven’t been too many players available that fit the Royals’ needs.

Last year’s big signing, Gil Meche, turned out to be a valuable asset to the rotation. This year, the Royals were focused on acquiring offense. I heard an interview in which GM Dayton Moore admitted that they Royals wanted to sign both Torii Hunter and Andruw Jones. When they failed to sign either player, they settled on Jose Guillen.

Try to imagine the Royals with both Hunter and Jones along with DeJesus in the outfield. That would allow Teahen to move to first, and would have made the Royals a potentially great offensive team.

Instead, Guillen will take his spot in the cleanup role and will occupy right field while Teahen will move to left.

Young slugger Billy Butler will compete for a job at first, but most likely he will spend more time as a DH. Ross Gload and Ryan Shealy will probably share time at first.

Most of the other position players will remain the same. Look for Alex Gordon to blossom in his sophomore season. Tony Pena, Jr. will return to his short stop position, and is becoming somewhat of a clubhouse leader. Grudz returns for probably his final season at second, with newly acquired Alberto Callapso as the utility infielder and second baseman in waiting.

The catcher position is a curious one. John Buck is struggling to come into his own, and this year he will be competing with Miguel Olivo for playing time. Both Buck and Olivo are similar players, so I’m not sure what Moore is thinking.

The first three rotation spots are pretty much set, with Gil Meche, Brian Bannister and Zack Greinke. Bannister had a great rookie season in 2007, and hopes to continue his success in ’08. Greinke is emerging from his personal problems and showed last year that he is potentially ready to take on a more prominent role in the rotation.

Fighting for the other slots are a myriad of pitchers. Mike Moroth, Jose DeLaRosa, Brett Tomko, Hideo Nomo, John Bale, and others will be fighting it out this spring. Jimmy Gobble returns as a solid middle reliever, and Joakim Soria slides into the closer role.

Another newcomer this year is manger Trey Hillman. Hillman joins the Royals after managing in Japan for the last five seasons. Hillman’s signing is really the crown jewel for the Royals’ off season. Hillman is a well-regarded manager who was being courted by several other teams, including the Yankees. Hillman promises to bring a new level of fundamentals and a “pitching and defense” attitude to the Royals.

Lifetime Royal Mike Sweeney was not brought back, and Sweeney signed a minor league contract with the Oakland A’s. As a Sweeney fan, I certainly hope he can provide the A’s with a solid bat off the bench or as a DH this season, so he can finish his career on an up note.

Also exciting and new this season will be Kauffman Stadium. The “K” is well into a major renovation, and fans will experience both the excitement and pain of that renovation this season. Work will continue throughout the season, with quitting time set at 3 ½ hours prior to game time. This will allow a cleaning crew to sweep up the dust prior to each game. There will be temporary restrooms and concession stands in some areas of the stadium. The new video board will be operational. This new scoreboard replaces the famous crown scoreboard, and will be much larger than the old board. This huge high definition scoreboard will be the highlight of the new “K,” though the crown atop the scoreboard will not be installed until the 2009 season.

While it’s pretty certain that the Royals will not compete for the division title in 2008, there are signs of improvement. The Royals finished 69-93 in 2007, and I expect around a 10-15 game improvement in 2008, for a third place finish behind the Tigers and Indians.

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